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Swallows and Amazons at the Tavistock Festival

Last weekend saw the start of the Tavistock Music and Arts Festival, which was opened on Saturday (21st April) in the portrait room of the Bedford Hotel by Sophie Neville, President of the Arthur Ransome Society, in the company of the Festival’s Trustees and its President, the composer Andrew Wilson.

Sophie Neville at the Tavistock Festival. Photo by Helena Ancil.

Sophie gave her talk and Q&A session about her book “The Making of Swallows and Amazons (1974)” which went down well with the audience made up of many Arthur Ransome enthusiasts, including those who loved both the old film and the Lake District. 

There were also young people interested in acting and film-making who said that they had watched the DVD a number of times, and one couple remembered Titty Altounyan who had lived in Coniston and was so well-loved by the people of the Lake District. Questions asked of Sophie included: ‘How did you get the part of Titty?’, ‘What was the most difficult scene to film?’ and ‘Where did you stay when you were filming?’.

Sophie Neville at Tavistock Library.

Christopher Kirwin, Chairman of the Festival, took Sophie to Tavistock Library, where they had created a display of Arthur Ransome books, including a vintage copy of “Robinson Crusoe”, and have “The Making of Swallows and Amazons” on their shelves. They also had a copy of “Swallows and Amazons” itself.

Vintage Copy Of “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe.

Dartmoor expert Simon Dell, who Sophie first met in 2015 when visiting Lundy Island with the Arthur Ransome Society, was also at the festival, and due to give a talk and lead some walks.

On the Sunday (22nd April), the 1974 “Swallows and Amazons” film was screened at the Wharf Cinema on the Tavistock Canal. It was followed by a book signing with Sophie, where festival members gathered to chat about films and film reviews, and books and book reviews, along with all manner of other things.

Projectionist David Harrison presented Sophie with a bunch of narcissi, telling her that he first screened the movie when it came out in 1974, and that she was his ‘favourite girl’ in it.

Sophie Neville at the Wharf Cinema with David Harrison.

He worked at the Drake Cinema in Plymouth from 1967 to 2000 and is an expert on film, with an impressive private collection of DVDs.

Sophie Neville with Rosie the Otter at the Wharf Cinema in Tavistock. Photo by Helena Ancil.

In the foyer of The Wharf, where Virginia McKenna (‘Mother’ in “Swallows and Amazons”) once gave a talk on making her iconic movie “Born Free”, they have new star: a glitzy otter called Rosie, who was wearing a red Amazon hat and happy to pose with Sophie, who is also a Patron of the UK Wild Otter Trust. Rosie is one of many otters made for the increasingly popular Moor Otter Trail, which has raised over £126,000 for Dartmoor National Park.

The Tavistock Music and Arts Festival continues until 7th May.

This story was based on Sophie Neville’s own account of her Festival weekend.